Episode #102: Reimagining Personalized Learning through Lindsay Leads with Barry Sommer

By Barbara Bray

Join Barbara Bray in conversations with awesome educators, leaders, and influencers as they talk about their passion and purpose for planting seeds for change. Each podcast has a link to a related blog post with more information and resources.

Barry Sommer is a Licensed Educational Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. He recently retired as the Director of Advancement at Lindsay Unified School District where he was responsible for Lindsay Leads which was the CyberSchool reimagining learning at Lindsay Unified. Currently, Barry and Kelley Layton are consultants advancing Lindsay Leads and supporting districts outside of LUSD through visitations, training, coaching, and publications.
Your background
I am a native New Yorker, born in the Bronx. I have an older sister where I learned to live in small spaces with lots of women. I have two daughters and two granddaughters. I went to the Bronx High School that was a magnet HS of science where I learned how to learn. Then I went to Cornell University in upstate NY where I planned on being an architect.
When I was 15, I had a summer experience working at Camp Limelight in the Catskill mountains for disabled children that changed my life. I discovered that working with people was infinitely more rewarding than inking drawings. I ended up working at the camp for 10 summers and eventually became the director of the camp. I learned a lot about leadership from some gifted people at Camp Limelight and decided to change my major to human development, family studies, and psychology. I went back to New York City and got a graduate degree in Education and Psychology. I got licensed as a school psychologist certified as an Educational Psychologist, then licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist. I met my wife, Donna, who was studying special education at Buffalo State University and was a counselor at the camp when I was her boss. We decided to move to California. We’ve been married almost 42 years and now we have 2 daughters and 2 granddaughters, 8 and 5 years old who live in Portland, Oregon. I started a practice and working in schools, now over 41 years. In the last 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to do some teaching at the graduate level both locally and at Columbia University.  
Barry mentioned the Netflix movie, Crip Camp which was similar to Camp Limelight but was about efforts to bring equity to people with physical disabilities and the American Disability Act. I saw it and highly recommend watching it.
What was it like for you growing up and as a student in the Bronx
Growing up in the Bronx was a real advantage to learning how to get along with people really well. I went to public schools and that was challenging at times. It was during the time of experiments called “skipping” based on a test they gave you when you were a kindergartener, you could move through the system quickly. So I skipped third grade which was a handicap because I never learned cursive writing and didn’t get introduced to multiplication and division until I was older. I did 7th and 8th grade in one year. I was very young when I started high school. Competing athletically was impossible because I didn’t even weigh 100 pounds and was 5 feet tall. I did have a keen interest in music and developed a good connection with others. Graduating right before my 17th birthday, I was able to eventually start my career at a very young age. School wasn’t personalized in any way for me and was very different from what I wanted for my children’s experience.